Cloisters, Abbey of St. Hilaire
In some way, subtle and difficult to define, with every future event that my being forecasts and imagines, there is a belief in resolution –that is, I believe a satisfactory ending for that particular imaginary situation can be reached.
The situation’s even more complex than that, because my imagination forecasts both things that will definitely happen (unless I die) such as eating a meal, or getting home safely and going to bed, and things that almost definitely won’t happen, such as winning the lottery, and so on.
My imagination, in other words, has the capacity and the habit of forecasting both the possible and the impossible; and unless I have sufficient awareness to discriminate between the two, it’s likely to confuse me, sometimes in disastrous ways
And what's the function of this “imagination?” Well, it serves as an agent for resolution; that is to say, it prepares me to make decisions and take actions that will lead to resolutions in the sense of solutions, answers to questions.
So I have a psychic function, which uses both intellectual, emotive, and physical elements of Being, that is designed to serve resolution. This particular capacity relates especially to the physical life of the body, and ordinary requirements for being, such as getting food, forming relationships, reproducing children, and so on. All of these various actions require intermittent resolution of one kind or another– some frequently, some only a few times during a life, but there’s always an underlying—and perhaps overbearing—aim and goal.
And there’s always this presumption that things can be resolved, that is, something which is imagined can be attained. That attainment, furthermore, is always viewed as a form of ending, because it answers the two main questions posed by the imagination– what will happen, and what do I do about it?
The imagination is a creature that takes on its own life. It frequently operates without any direction (this is BTW the source of inward creative function) and it produces all kinds of material which may continue to repetitively churn itself out long after its purpose has already been served. (Obsessive-compulsive disorders center around this mechanical activity of the imagination. Everyone has some features of this disorder, but in a self-serving action of denial, society only tips its hat to the most obvious clinical manifestations.)
This part has a great power, because it helps to drive life forward; and in the absence of any awareness about that power or the function itself, it can take over my life. I need, in other words, enough force of Being to not live in my dreams and my imagination. This is worth examining more, because it is strongly connected with Gurdjieff’s teachings about sleep.
Before I move on to the personal psychic consequences of this belief in resolution, I just want to point out how strongly our literary and mythical arts are connected to the idea. Speaking as an editor, I’ve pointed out many times that what is satisfying in storytelling, drama, mythology is the laying out of conflict and the achievement of resolution. Story lines that don't follow this very broad requirement are somehow deeply unsatisfying; and no matter how the modern world has attempted to divorce itself from this trajectory by creating fashionable open-ended stories that begin nowhere, stay nowhere, and go nowhere—all with much sound and fury—storylines without a resolution always seem to ultimately fail. Compare high-quality productions that ultimately go nowhere, such as HBO's The Sopranos, with its repetitive resolution of small stories without any true resolution to the whole series, to Breaking Bad, which follows a relentless downward slide into disaster. Breaking Bad’s trajectory, negative though it is, finds a fair portion of its genius in achieving the resolution that The Sopranos never quite finds.
It is going somewhere.
Existentialism alone turns out to be a very weak partner in dramatic contests: it's too one centered, too intellectual. From a certain perverse point of view, with human beings, we sense it is better to end badly than to never end at all.
Perhaps this peculiar and inverted understanding of meaning is what leads to so many apparently senseless acts of violence. We want our myths –our stories about what life means –to be resolved. The satisfaction we seek is a highly emotional one: its source, in other words, lies beyond mere existence, in a realm that can't be defined by facts alone.
More often than not, the most satisfying stories – and these are the ones that overwhelmingly prevail in literature and the arts–are the ones where good triumphs over evil. There is something so deeply satisfying about this that it's difficult to explain using conventional psychology. The soul of mankind itself has a wish for this kind of resolution: that the better thing will happen. The fact that the better thing is all too often profoundly subjective hardly matters; and cultures form their identities around agreement on what the better thing is, which is part of the whole point of myth in the first place.
Wishing you good on this day,
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.